I like to relax on my bed of nails, that’s one thing that almost never fails – 29th July 2020

Nothing stays the same, though we always try and force it. Is this the start of the pandemic era as some people are predicting? What is the ‘new normal’ and is it really any different to before?

I feel very lucky. After leaving the UK in 1994 my life, on reflection, has been a lucky and happy rollercoaster ride. Even the bottoms of the ride felt survivable, perhaps because at least there wasn’t a cold grey rain spitting in my face. Perhaps there were occasions where it didn’t feel survivable at that moment, but luckily I did, and so I have the possibility to reflect.

My journey is my own and my pronouncements can only be based on that experience, my judgements for myself, so take them with a pinch of salt. I did bad things, good things, stupid things, smart things. I see others doing the same. Who am I to judge?

I have definitelty changed over the last 6 months and I’m not sure why. Or I should say, I’m not sure specifically why. I have implemented lots of minor habit changes and behaviour modifications and perhaps it is an accumulation of minor positive changes that have made the difference. So I can’t put it down to meditating, exercising or journalling specifically.

I decided to get up 45 minutes earlier than I need to in order to get to work. In that time I follow a flexible routine. I keep it flexible because I shouldn’t punish myself for not following it consistently.

First I use my exercise bands to help open up my shoulders and stretch my calves. Probably only a couple of minutes total. Next I spend 5 to 10 minutes doing tests on my language apps (Drops and Mondly) – the aim is to break my current daily streak, learn some new words, possibly remember those words and reinforce this habit. The idea behind this is to create a sense of achievement as soon as possible in the morning and this sets you up for the rest of the day.

Next I lay on the floor and stretch out my back, neck and hamstrings. A warm up stretch more than anything, no more than a couple of minutes again. Just brushing off the tightness left over from sleep.

Then I use an app called Home Workout and all I do is the 5 minute morning warm up exercise, 10 exercises to get your body moving and your heartrate raised just slightly. I may move onto harder exercise routines later but I’m not in any hurry. I follow this with 30 squats and 20 tip-toe stretches (I have real problems with my feet).

If there is time, I write some ‘morning pages’ – whatever thoughts are piling through my head, though I’ve found that usually I don’t write much because I am sitting ‘trying’ to think of things to write. I often try to recall my dreams at this point. Whatever, it’s not a journal, it’s barely legible, it’s spat out quickly and forgotten – not really meant to be read again in the future. This habit is 2-5 minutes max.

Finally I’ll meditate (this is when my brain suddently starts coming up with the random thoughts!). I use the Smiling Mind app which has plenty of free meditations and I don’t know if I often get into a real meditative state but I want to do it just for practice. Doing it over and over again puts smaller chucks of information into my brain that I can utilise during the day, when not meditating as such. In this way it is a success. Perhaps it has taught me to just pause sometimes before opening my mouth. Taking a deep breath before heading into a difficult class.

I usually meditate between 5 and 10 minutes and mostly they are guided meditations. Once there gets to be longer periods of silence I still struggle with keeping focus on breath or letting go of thoughts, but that’s the reason to practice, right? I also have been laying on a spiky massage mat whilst doing this and that has been great. Much like a bed of nails. It makes me wonder why I like it? Do I like discomfort, do I find comfort in pain? Do I feel some sense of achievement to be able to survive it? I don’t know if there is any scientific study around physiological benefits of this type of thing but I just know that I like it!

Finally, a shower and breakfast and it’s off to work. Following this routine 5 days a week seems to be having a positive effect on my happiness and calm. I wouldn’t put it down to any one of the habits specifically or even them all together. Sometimes it can just be the action, the doing, that provides the benefit. For years I’ve implored friends to just ‘Do Something’ usually for a larger cause. Now I’m starting to understand that whilst I was doing something for a larger cause it also had the side effect of benefitting myself.

I was going to write about how the Covid-19 virus has effected my life teaching at school and what the ‘new normal’ of that looks like. Fortunately for me it has meant lots of free time, drinking coffee in the morning, sitting by the river. This situation won’t last forever. I won’t last forever. I enjoy it whilst I can.

The Chiang Rai Alternative Memorial for Tim Smith – 25th July 2020

Crave fun, brave sun, he keeps the world as his disguise
Slave hung, brave sun, the leader of the starry skies
From the tops of the trees
To the bowels of the Earth
Swings from pillar to post
‘Cos he’s here
And now
And now
He’s here

24 Cardiacs tracks randomly selected by iTunes, in memory of the genius of Dr Tim Smith, The Leader of the Starry Skies.

….never mind the war take me home again
For the last time

Too much, double bullseye, too much, do it again – 5th July 2020

A long weekend with two extra days. Though I have been barely working at all this semester, at least this weekend promised not having to attend school and an opportunity to do whatever I wanted.

I had half an idea to get back into playing some video games again but only got around to it on the last day. It was fun but unfulfilling, possibly the spectre of disappointment raised by having to relearn how to play a game again, that I was half way through and not played for 18 months. I wonder when I’ll give it another go? I wonder if my old Nintendo DS still works after all these years?

On Sunday, the skies were cloudy but the rain had been holding off. It is gonna rain again, right? That can’t be it for rainy season already? Last year it didn’t seem to rain so much and it lead to drought in many parts of the country. We’ve had some big rains and the ground is getting saturated but there’s been nothing really approaching flooding.

Anyway, Amy and I took the opportunity for a quick drive down to Phayao. Amy had an idea to pick up some English muffins and jam from a local farm run by an Aussie and his Thai wife. Well, we didn’t really need much reason. It’s nice to have a break from the regularity of school and home and we haven’t been out much due to the pandemic situation, which, despite having limited impact here so far, is always something to be cautious of.

Amy’s old workmate, Jackie, had also managed to get himself out of Australia recently, hainvg overstayed his visa by a few years already. Now, Jackie is a character, or perhaps even more accurately, a caricature. He can be difficult to talk to, difficult to listen to and difficult to understand. Having not seen him for 3 years or so it would be interesting to hear some of his stories from that elapsed time.

The drive was very pleasant and enjoyable, some fantastic mountain ranges on the right with fresh paddy fields across the plains of the valley. Everything one shade of green or another.

Soon we arrived and met up with Jackie at his friends fish restaurant on the lake, where I took the attached panorama. Jackie was exactly as we remembered though looking more like he was hitting his old age than before. He talked loudly and non-stop, mostly polite nonsense but always, always, about money, and he made us laugh with his absurd pronouncements. He paid for everyone’s lunch, despite having little money, insisting that this is the ‘Thai way’ and we will off course reciprocate if he ever comes to visit.

Next we headed to a coffee shop, also next to the lake. Everything is next to the lake – it is the main feature of the sleepy little town. Jackie told us that the waters are lowering due to the Chinese damming rivers further upstream – a common issue amongst adjacent nations around the world these days. We waited at the cafe for the farmers to deliver our order to us, as they had decided to close the farm to visitors until next year due to the virus.

When they arrived I chatted with the Aussie and Amy chatted with his wife in Thai. Jackie was listening in as they explained about closing the farm and after a few minutes it was time for them to leave. Just as they turned to walk away, and well within earshot, Jackie turned to Amy and said in Thai, something along the lines of “Fucking stupid, why they close the farm, no virus now, fucking open, make money!” Amy shushed him (and told me this story later) and Amy and I discussed driving around the lake before heading home. Jackie said we should and he would leave us for ‘romantic time’. We laughed and then he instantly invited himself along too! He actually hasn’t been here in his hometown for about 20 years so the drive around was all new to him too.

Eventually we dropped Jackie home and headed back along the highway, shaking our heads at the things Jackie had done and said in the short time we caught up with him. I concluded that we were being punished for something bad in our past lives. Meeting once every three years or so still might be too often.